I have been living in Bangkok for about 3 months now. I am still exploring the city and learning about all it has to offer. Of course, one of the main attractions is the excellent and economical dining that is available here. Recently, there was a thread on a Thai message board about the hygiene of the food stalls you find on the side of the road everywhere; someone recommended using food courts as an alternative. Well, I have fallen into the habit of using these food courts frequently myself. Since I have a fair bit of free time on my hands, I thought I would do a short article about them.
Food courts can be found in most shopping malls. The ones that I visit are in buildings that are connected to or near sky train stations. I am not sure if food courts are as cheap as the food carts on the street, but they can’t be much more expensive, and they are a whole lot cheaper than restaurants in the tourist ghettos. More importantly, they provide a more authentic local Thai dining experience. It seems silly to me to come thousands of miles just for a burger and fries.
All food courts basically work the same way: you go to a booth with the sign ‘Coupons’ (hopefully in English as well as Thai). Give the attendant 50 to 100 Baht, and get an equivalent amount in coupons. You check out the various booths, place your order, and wait for them to cook or prepare it for you – takes a few minutes at most. The food courts that I mention below all have at least some booths that list their selection in English as well as Thai, so there should not be much of a language problem. Most booths will serve a main course of some kind. There are also a few that will serve dessert and drinks as well. Figure on 25 to 50 Baht for a main dish, 20 to 30 Baht for dessert, 10 to 20 Baht for a drink. If you have any unspent coupons after placing you order, you can take it back to a booth to redeem them back into baht (usually but not always the same place where you bought the coupons).
I like food courts for several reasons: they are indoors, so you avoid the noise, heat and flies of a roadside food stall. It’s a cheap way to dine – save your baht for the ladies of the evening. You usually get a decent selection of local food to choose from. You get to eat with the locals themselves – nice to see a slice of authentic urban Thai culture. Also, food courts are kind of fun – you get your ‘play money’ and can spend it on all kinds of exotic looking dishes. Sure and it wears off after a while, but to me it still beats Mac’s or KFC in terms of lowbrow dining.
Review of Food Courts:
1) Ploenchit Centre:
The is my favourite place to eat lunch for a few reasons: it is close to where I am staying in Bangkok, so I go there about 2 times a week. There is a pretty good selection of food and it is cheaper than the other food courts. I think this is because it is not really a tourist area; most of the noontime clientele are office workers in the Centre or from nearby. There is lots of room, so I have never had trouble getting a free table.
Let me repeat that there are a lot of office workers who have lunch here. This includes respectable young Thai ladies in office attire that often wraps snugly around their bodies. I recall one time I was eating here: a small group of secretaries came to dine at a table beside mine. One of them was a real knockout – tall and with a nice, slim figure. She was wearing a tight-fitting skirt. She came to the table with her lunch, then bent over to put her tray on the table, and for some reason remained in this position for about a minute. So there I was, about 2 meters away from a small but perfectly well-rounded little butt, the world-famous Thai ladies’ derriere. Ay Caramba! The fabric of her skirt was stretched so tightly over it that I could clearly see the outline of her thong panties underneath. Gentlemen, it was more erotic than anything I have seen in Nana, Cowboy or The Pong.
Directions: go to Ploenchit Skytrain station, exit from the North-West, walk west about 100 meters. Food court is located on the 6th floor.
This is the largest food court that I have seen in Bangkok. A very good selection of food: Thai, Chinese and a few Indian and Muslim booths. The clientele is a mix of office workers, students and tourists. It is a bit more expensive than the Ploenchit Centre, no doubt due to it being in a central shopping and touristy area. Still, there is a lot to do in MBK, so it is nice to drop by here for a snack while you are shopping, watching a movie or playing video games. One point I should mention: during the weekend, it can get quite crowded in the afternoon. It is a very large court, but I feel that half of Bangkok comes here at the weekend.
Directions: go to National Stadium Skytrain station, go along the connecting walkway to the MBK Centre. Food Court is on the 6th floor.
3) Siam Centre:
I have only been here twice, so take what I say with a grain of salt. It is a fairly small food court, not so much selection. It very much feels like a student hangout to me – reminds me of most food courts in suburban North American shopping malls. Not surprisingly, many of the students who hang out in the Siam Square area patronize it. I have never seen it crowded, so it is a good place to go if you want a semi-quiet area with some table space to read or study (you will see a lot of kids doing their homework here).
Directions: go to Siam Skytrain station. Food court is on the 3rd floor, east side of the building.
4) Robinson’s / Tops (Sukhumvit Soi 19):
This is a small food court, so the selection is mediocre. It is also somewhat more expensive than other courts, and I have found that standard meal portions seem smaller – you may need to order 2 dishes to get a satisfying, full-sized meal. I guess this is to be expected, being on lower Sukhumvit road, in the middle of sex-tourist alley. Which brings us to its main advantage, the location. It is a handy place to pop in for a quick, (relatively) cheap snack as one cruises back and forth between Nana and Cowboy, looking for sanuk.
I usually visit this place in the early evening. Every time I have been there, I have seen this middle-aged, East Indian gentleman with a beard and turban. There are always 4 large bottles of beer in front of him. He sits at the table, staring off in the distance, like he is drunk and thoroughly mellowed out. Anyone know what his story is?
Directions: go to Asoke Skytrain stations, walk 100 meters west along the north side of Sukhumvit Road. Food court in the basement level of Robinson’s Dept. Store, beside Top’s supermarket.
Other Food Courts:
– World Trade Centre: on the 6th floor, fairly roomy and quiet.
– Pantip Plaza: on the 2rd floor. Quite small – expect it to be extremely crowded on the weekend with boys and girls shopping for MP3s, movies and games.
– Emporium Shopping Centre: on the 5th floor. Also very crowded on weekends (but a very upscale crowd).
– Tokyu Department Store: on the 4th floor, just beside MBK. I would give this a pass and go to the MBK court itself, just 2 escalator rides away.
I will conclude with a small rant: Even though I am staying in the lower Sukhumvit area, I find that I don’t dine in the restaurants there very often. They seem expensive to me and the quality of food and service does not justify the price. The service is especially a sore point with me – these places stick you with a mandatory 10% service charge which I think is a small rip-off because the service is fair to poor ….. well, just another regular day in sex tourist alley. I have found one restaurant that is reasonable – “Thai Rammros”. It’s on Sukhumvit Soi 1, west side of the street about 100 meters into the soi. Decent food, fairly low prices, menus in English. Customers are a mix of farangs and local Thais. No doubt there are other restaurants around like this, probably just a matter of exploring the sois a bit.
There are food courts in virtually every shopping centre all over the city. To me, some of the food court food is a little too sanitized compared to what is available on the street, but the setting is a more comfortable place to eat.